By Ken MacLeod
Out of the rankings since 2000, Oak Tree National shot back up to 51 in the 50th anniversary of the Golf Digest Top 100 list released Tuesday.
The 1975 Pete Dye design had been ranked as high as 15th in 1988. It rebounded this year thanks to much improved turf grass conditions and an extensive tree trimming program which helped showcase major improvements made in recent years to green complexes and bunkering patterns by architect Tripp Davis.
The club drew raves while hosting the U.S. Senior Open in July. Winner Colin Montgomerie repeatedly said the course was one of the best he’s encountered and capable of hosting a U.S. Open. While those words were music to the ears of co-owners Everett Dobson and Ed Evans along with Tom Jones, president and COO, they did not sway most of the raters, as most of them visited before the tournament.
"We only had about five of the 45 who came in after the Open," Jones said. "I’m just really happy for the members. They sacrificed a lot with the Open here and this is a reflection that things are going in the right direction here.
"When you’ve been way up there in the past and then dropped out, it makes you feel like you’re going the wrong direction. Oak Tree National has always had great shot values. I do think the conditioning is really good and the layout is awesome."
Oak Tree National superintendent Josh Cook oversaw a program that brought the greens back from a debilitating bacterial wilt to superb conditions for the Senior Open.
"It’s a testament to the financial commitment of the ownership group and a lot of hard work to bring it back to this level of recognition," said Dobson. "Starting with the fairways, the bunkering and restoring some elements of our original design characteristics, there’s a host of improvements have been made. We’re all ecstatic and I think our members will be appreciative of the recognition as well."
Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa moved up one spot from No. 30 to No. 29. New head professional Cary Cozby, working his first day Tuesday since moving over from Wichita Country Club, said his hope would be the club would move up from there.
"I would hope we keep moving up," Cozby said. "I would have to look at the list, but I know there’s not many courses above us that have hosted seven major championships. I’m biased, but I doubt there are 20 better courses than Southern Hills in the country."
Other courses of regional interest ranked include the Perry Maxwell-designed Prairie Dunes in Hutchinson, Kan., at No. 25, The Alotian in Little Rock by Tom Fazio at No. 27 and Flint Hills in Wichita at No. 85.
Karsten Creek in Stillwater was ranked No. 14 in the list of Top 100 Public Courses, ahead of courses that were ranked in either the top 100 overall or second 100 lists. Karsten Creek was not ranked in those lists. Golf Oklahoma was unable to immediately get an explanation from Golf Digest for that seeming inconsistency.